Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Enthusiasm, VII: What Happened After Vatican II?


Back in 1982, Dr. James Hitchcock of St. Louis University published The New Enthusiasts and What They Are Doing to the Catholic Church.  Intended as an updating of Msgr. Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm from 1950, it has two serious flaws from our point of view, neither of which diminish its value.

Dr. James Hitchcock
One, there is no index, at least in the edition we have.  That means we have to put slips of paper with notes on them for anything we think we might want to reference in the future, and we can’t look for something specific unless we remember (sort of) that we read it and where in the book.  (We really don’t like writing in books.)

Two, it didn’t really make us want to read Knox’s book (crime of the century).  It (sort of) seems to assume that the reader is already familiar with Enthusiasm, and by concentrating on what Knox didn’t cover, leads a reader away from, rather than toward it.  In our opinion, anyway.

Still, where Hitchcock’s The New Enthusiasts might not make you want to read Knox’s Enthusiasm, readers of the latter should want to read the former.  It helps put things in order, and correlates the historical evidence — which for Knox stops at the admittedly arbitrary year of 1823 — with what happened following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.  Hitchcock’s book therefore provides a useful (if, from the Just Third Way standpoint, somewhat incomplete) guide to the application and development of the enthusiastic spirit after Vatican II.

The Catholic Church attacked from the inside and the outside.
As we’ve hinted more than once in this series, events following Vatican II are examples of what G.K. Chesterton described as attacks on the Catholic Church (and, indeed, the whole of western society) from inside and from outside the Church and western civilization.  This, in Chesterton’s and Knox’s opinion (and, as we shall see, that of Fulton Sheen as well), constituted not merely a new religion, but an entirely new concept of religion.

As a direct result of the shift from the basis of knowledge of the natural law based on human nature to personal opinion (from the Intellect to the Will, as it is usually put), an omniscient and omnipotent God was no longer to be at the center.  Instead, as adherents of theosophy and other New Age systems insist, the abstraction “humanity” was the focus.  Promising utopia, the collective was to be the new God.  As Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson had a character reflect on the Antichrist character in his dystopian novel Lord of the World (1907), his lurid and biting satire on Edwardian England,

Novel and author.
“There should be war no more: that bloody spectre was dead, and with him the brood of evil that lived in his shadow — superstition, conflict, terror, and unreality.  The idols were smashed, and rats had run out; Jehovah was fallen; the wild-eyed dreamer of Galilee was in his grave; the reign of priests was ended.  And in their place stood a strange, quiet figure of indomitable power and unruffled tenderness. . . . He whom she had seen — the Son of Man, the Saviour of the world, as she had called Him just now — He who bore these titles was no longer a monstrous figure, half God and half man, claiming both natures and possessing neither; one who was tempted without temptation, and who conquered without merit, as his followers said. Here was one instead whom she could follow, a god indeed and a man as well — a god because human, and a man because so divine.” {Emphasis added.]

Following Vatican II, the primary symptoms of the shift from the Intellect to the Will were, one, the interpretation of Catholic social teaching.  Based officially on the sound philosophy of Aquinas, this was now to be understood as de facto or explicit socialism, as permitted (some would say mandated) by the socialist-leaning philosophy of William of Occam and various New Age theories.

E.F. Schumacher, New Age Guru.
Two, the focus of theology became meeting purely human wants and needs.  Spiritual matters were either of no importance, or would achieve overwhelming importance and develop naturally as people fulfilled the wants and needs of others; materiality and spirituality were joined in ways that subsumed one into the other, depending on the desired goal.

Books like E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (1973) and A Guide for the Perplexed (1977), essentially rehashes of Fabian socialism and warmed-over theosophy, respectively, seemed heaven-sent to people searching for answers in a world that seemed to be breaking up in chaos.  At the most superficial level, these and other works by various authors seemed consistent with the “new” openness following Vatican II.

This, however, was as misleading as the New Age itself, as we will see in the next posting in this series.

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